Czech hospitals could profit from EU cross border health care rules

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European ministers have just agreed on a set of rules setting out the possibilities for patients in one country getting health treatment in another with national health services or insurance companies footing the bill. The rules look like they could put extra business the way of low cost, but efficient, health services, like that of the Czech Republic.

After two years of haggling punctuated by some rulings by the European Union’s top court, ministers on Tuesday appeared to have thrashed out a framework setting out how patients in one EU country can get health treatment in another.

The deal is founded on the presumption that such cross border treatment should be open to all patients. But the catch is that a patient’s doctor and insurance company must okay such treatment and it cannot be more expensive than care in the home country.

One fundamental concern behind these conditions was the worry that otherwise Europe’s ill and ailing might have shopped around for the best, and probably most expensive, treatment going and bankrupted their already strained domestic health care systems. Safeguards are also included to prevent national health systems being swamped or deserted as a result of the changes.

Ondřej Dostál is a lecturer in health law at Prague’s Charles University and a practicing lawyer. He says that the agreement has its pluses and minuses with the bad points including a retreat from some of the rights established by previous European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings.

“This is a step forward concerning legal certainty because so far we only have jurisprudence on this topic from the European Court of Justice and this is not clear enough for some patients. On the other hand, the recent decision of ministers seems to be quite restrictive compared to the previous proposals of the cross border health care directive. In order to make the directive acceptable for all member states, some of the patients’ rights declared by jurisprudence are restricted.”

Mr. Dostál believes that some Czech hospitals have the quality and spare capacity to profit from the new framework without putting at risk local patients, and he points out that Czechs could also benefit.

Ondřej Dostál
“These improved cross border possibilities can bring them more income from foreign patients. From the point of view of Czech patients, it will bring them the possibility of access to some centres or types of health care not accessible in our country, especially in the border regions.”

The final diagnosis of what all this means will have to wait until the European Parliament gets its say on the deal and suggests its own remedies.